If she were choosing, Daintry Bartoldus ’88 wouldn’t have been in the spotlight Homecoming 2018, accepting the 2018 Outstanding Alumni Award from the Pacific University Alumni Association. She wouldn’t even have been nominated.
For the nomination, she can thank Professor-Emeritus Mike Steele. For the application, she can thank her mother, Jerry, who compiled letters of recommendation and forwarded them to the Alumni Association.
“You will never meet a more humble person,” Jerry said by phone from Hawai’i. “She’s doing something from the moment she wakes up until she goes to sleep.”
Bartoldus dedicates her time to improving the lives of people with developmental disabilities, both in her personal life and in her work with the Hawai’i Council on Developmental Disabilities, where she designs and oversees support systems.
Her personal work alone is remarkable. Her government work has been pioneering. Taken together, they tell a remarkable story of a woman who is alert to human needs and committed to addressing them, no matter the cost.
Listen to Bernadette Keliiaa, who served on the Council for Developmental Disabilities and whose son, Donovan, had autism. Keliiaa had been frustrated in her efforts to find meaningful support for Donovan. At the time, Bartoldus was an intern on the council.
When Bartoldus heard about the Keliiaas’ situation, “She basically moved him into her house,” Bernadette Keliaa said. Then she helped him get an apartment.
“Thanks to Daintry, I was able to get him into independent living,” Keliiaa said. “Without her, it wouldn’t have happened.”
Donovan died in 2014 at the age of 33 after suffering a heart attack. But Bartoldus helped give him a sense of dignity and independence, and Keliiaa considers her a close friend.
She cites how Bartoldus had made a difference in other lives. She helped establish and support a lunch cart staffed by people with disabilities. And when Bartoldus was just 26, she took in a disabled woman named Alice, who still lives with her.
“She’s touched so many lives,” Keliiaa said.
Alice recently turned 80 and still lives with Bartoldus. “She’s as spry as ever,” Bartoldus said of Alice. “She’s a hoot.”
Doesn’t Bartoldus feel as if she’s sacrificed her own freedom to take care of Alice?
“I don’t see her as a burden at all,” Bartoldus said, while acknowledging that she didn’t foresee signing up for 20 years of caregiving.
“I believe we are servants,” she said. “I was put here to be the best I can be.”
After taking in Alice, who was deinstitutionalized with no place to go, Bartoldus said, she simply made adjustments to her life and got help along the way from friends. She says she deeply enjoys sharing in Alice’s life.
Leolinda Parlin, the president of Hilopa’a Family to Family, a nonprofit that guides caregivers of people with special needs, credits Bartoldus with guiding Hawai’i’s canoe through the turbulent waters of court-ordered changes to the mental health services system in 1994. At the time, Parlin said, “There was no playbook.”
Bartoldus helped create a model for independent living for adults with disabilities, who previously were forced into group living situations, Parlin said. Along the way, Bartoldus “mentored a generation of social workers and professionals,” she said.
She has been a case worker, a supervisor of case workers and nurses, a liaison between the Hawai’i Legislature, Congress and the community, and now, executive administrator of the Developmental Disability Council, where she plans, oversees, evaluates and advocates for systems to serve the disabled.
“She’s so understated,” Parlin said. “She does her best work in the shadows. She’s totally under the radar.”
Parlin suggests that Bartoldus’ professional skills are akin to her skills as a distance runner. When Bartoldus sets out to run, Parlin said, she practices “her ability to persevere, to muscle through anything and not tire. She can pace herself.” As someone working to shape the support system for developmentally disabled people, she regularly calls upon those skills to get things done, Parlin said.
That’s not a bad metaphor, Bartoldus agreed. Government, she said, “moves like molasses.”
Bartoldus has cared in her home for people at the end of their lives, including her own father, who had Parkinson’s disease and dementia. It was demanding at times, she said, but “I just made it work.”
When she recognized that people who emigrated from the Micronesian islands to Hawai’i were having difficulty becoming integrated with local laws and cultures, she went to the island of Chuuk to better understand the way the islanders lived. Back in Hawai’i in 2010, she helped an extended family from Chuuk rent farm land and register their children for school. Today, she said, the farm is thriving.
In 2017, she adopted a homeless family of five, putting a roof over their heads, helping the adults find jobs and the children register for school. For three months, she collected $1,000 in monthly rent, then returned it to them so they could rent a home. Today all three adults are working, paying rent and taxes, and receiving no government assistance.
“I was just trying to do what any person should be doing,” Bartoldus said. “If everybody did that, the world would be a better place.”
She said she is grateful to Pacific for helping her find her way when she was young and somewhat directionless. She attended for a while, then left, but later reached out to people like former Athletic Director Judy Sherman, who said she would be welcome to return to campus. She did, and earned a degree in humanities.
And now, after being nominated and applying for the alumni award, Bartoldus is willing to stand in the spotlight, briefly. Plus, her mother wants her to.
“This is really important to her,” Bartoldus said. “This is payback to my parents.”